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The use of different amber sources in Italy during the Bronze Age: new archaeometric data

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Abstract and Figures

The production of amber ornaments occurred in Italy during the Eneolithic (E)–Early Bronze Age (EBA), although very few beads from the Italian peninsula have been found and analysed. The number of data available for provenience study of Bronze Age ambers is larger, but still a precise picture of when and to what extent the local sources of amber were exploited is lacking. In the present work, 22 amber finds from six Sicilian sites have been studied and analysed by infrared spectroscopy, in particular with DRIFT (diffuse reflectance infrared Fourier transformed) analyses. The amber samples are dated between the Eneolithic and the Final Bronze Age–Early Iron Age and are from the collections of the P. Orsi Museum, in Syracuse (Sicily). The data show that only simetite was used in South Italy in the Late Eneolithic (LE)–EBA. In the Bronze Age, the exploitation of simetite shows different intensity in different chronological phases. The results are discussed in comparison with the information available for coeval European ambers.
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1 23
Archaeological and Anthropological
ISSN 1866-9557
Volume 9
Number 4
Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2017) 9:673-684
DOI 10.1007/s12520-016-0452-7
The use of different amber sources in Italy
during the Bronze Age: new archaeometric
Ivana Angelini & Paolo Bellintani
1 23
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The use of different amber sources in Italy during the Bronze Age:
new archaeometric data
Ivana Angelini
&Paolo Bellintani
Received: 1 June 2016 /Accepted: 8 December 2016 /Published online: 24 December 2016
#Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016
Abstract The production of amber ornaments occurred in
Italy during the Eneolithic (E)Early Bronze Age (EBA), al-
though very few beads from the Italian peninsula have been
found and analysed. The number of data available for prove-
nience study of Bronze Age ambers is larger, but still a precise
picture of when and to what extent the local sources of amber
were exploited is lacking. In the present work, 22 amber finds
from six Sicilian sites have been studied and analysed by
infrared spectroscopy, in particular with DRIFT (diffuse re-
flectance infrared Fourier transformed) analyses. The amber
samples are dated between the Eneolithic and the FinalBronze
AgeEarly Iron Age and are from the collections of the P. Orsi
Museum, in Syracuse (Sicily). The data show that only
simetite was used in South Italy in the Late Eneolithic (LE)
EBA. In the Bronze Age, the exploitation of simetite shows
different intensity in different chronological phases. The re-
sults are discussed in comparison with the information avail-
able for coeval European ambers.
Keywords Amber .Simetite .Succinite .Baltic amber .
DRIFT .Bronze Age
The more diffused and better known amber type in Europe is
securely succinite, often called in the literature simply BBaltic
amber^because of its geographic origin. Succinite is used
since the Palaeolithic Age (Burdukiewicz 1993;Rice2006;
Peñalver et al. 2007) thanks not only to its wide variety of
colours and to its good workability but also to the abundance
and the facility of the deposit exploitation that play a funda-
mental role in the diffusion of the materials (in the past large
lumps of succinite were easily found on the shore of the Baltic
Sea). Even if succinite represents about 9798% of the amber
found in the Baltic deposits, actually small amounts of differ-
ent amber varieties are also present in the region (Stout et al.
1995; Kosmowska-Ceranowicz 1997,1999,2006; Rice 2006;
Angelini 2010a). The main deposits are located in the Sambia
(Russia) and in the Bitterfeld (Germany) areas, but Baltic am-
ber sources are distributed on a very large region spanning
from England to Russia, encompassing also Sweden and
CentralEastern Europe (especially Poland) (Kosmowska-
Ceranowicz 1984; Poinar 1992; Lukashina and Kharin
The geographic distribution of the amber deposits, accord-
ing to geologic age and types of amber found in each mine, is
a complex topic indeed. General distribution maps may be
found in Poinar (1992), Grimaldi (1996) and Rice (2006).
Considering in particular the European amber sources is im-
portant to point out that beside the Baltic amber varieties,
numerous other types of amber are found in small deposits,
especially in Spain, French, Germany, Austria, Switzerland,
Hungary and Romania.
Interesting types of amber have also been discovered in
Nothern Italy: ambers may be found in Triassic deposits in
the Dolomites, Eastern Alps (Vavra 1993; Giannola et al.
1998; Roghi et al. 2006), whereas early Eocene ambers are
*Ivana Angelini
Dipartimento di Beni Culturali, Università degli Studi di Padova,
Piazza Capitaniato 7, 35139 Padova, Italy
Soprintendenza per i Beni Culturali, Ufficio Beni Archeologici, Via
Mantova 67, 38122 Trento, Italy
Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2017) 9:673684
DOI 10.1007/s12520-016-0452-7
Author's personal copy
present in the Lessini Mountains, near Verona (Trevisani et al.
2005). Scientific investigation of these deposits is recent and
the archaeometric investigation to date shows that were not
used in prehistory and ancient time.
In Central Italy, several small deposits generally dated to
the Early Eocene are located in the Northern and Central
Apennine chain from Reggio Emilia to Foligno (Dalrio
1980; Skalski and Veggiani 1990; Angelini and Bellintani
2005). The exploitation of these deposits in antiquity is strong-
ly debated since the end of the18
/beginning of the nineteenth
century (Cappellini 1872;DeNavarro1925), but to date, only
in one site spectroscopic analysis suggests that the non-Baltic
Tabl e 1 List of the analysed samples with the description of the object typology, the provenience and the relative inventory number of the P. Orsi
Museum (Syracuse). The age of the materials are described based on the relative Sicilian chronology; comparisons with other chronologies are reported
in the text. Recent publications describing the amber finds and their archaeological context are reported. The results of the DRIFTanalyses are also listed
Label Age/relative Sicilian
chronology (detailed
in the text)
Object Provenience Excavation
inventory number
Recent publications DRIFT results
CF-A Eneolithic (beginning
of the III mill. BC)
Pendant Calafarina (Syracuse) From the burial cave Cultraro 2007,2010 Simetite
CF-B Eneolithic (beginning
of the III mill. BC)
Amber bead
Calafarina (Syracuse) From the burial cave Cultraro 2007,2010 Simetite
CSe EBA late phase (about
18001600 BC)
Discoidal bead
with irregular
Cava Secchiera (Syracuse) Tomb 10, showcase
Cultraro 2007,2010;
Rosy Gennusa 2015
Cas-Fr1 EBA late phase (about
18001600 BC)
Bead fragment Castelluccio (Syracuse) Tomb 9, inv. no. 8842 Cultraro 2007,2010;
Rosy Gennusa 2015
Cas-Fr2 EBA Late phase (about
18001600 BC)
Amber fragment
Castelluccio (Syracuse) Tomb 9, inv. no. 8842 Cultraro 2007,2010;
Rosy Gennusa 2015
Cas-Fr3 EBA Late phase (about
18001600 BC)
Amber fragment
Castelluccio (Syracuse) Tomb 9, inv. no. 8842 Cultraro 2007,2010;
Rosy Gennusa 2015
Th-A1 MBA (16001350 BC) Annular bead Thapsos (Syracuse) Inv. no. 69,372 Cultraro 2007,2010 Succinite
Th-A2 MBA (16001350 BC) Annular bead Thapsos (Syracuse) Inv. no. 69,372 Cultraro 2007,2010 Succinite
Th-A3 MBA (16001350 BC) Annular bead Thapsos (Syracuse) Inv. no. 69,372 Cultraro 2007,2010 Succinite
Th-A4 MBA (16001350 BC) Annular bead Thapsos (Syracuse) Inv. no. 69,372 Cultraro 2007,2010 Succinite
Th-A5 MBA (16001350 BC) Annular bead Thapsos (Syracuse) Inv. no. 69,372 Cultraro 2007,2010 Succinite
Pl-Fr MBA (16001350 BC) Amber fragment Plemmirio (Syracuse) Tomb 10, showcase
1, inv. no. 8887
Cultraro 2007,2010 Succinite
Pl-Da1 MBA (16001350 BC) Discoidal bead Plemmirio (Syracuse) Tomb 48, showcase
6, inv. no. 17,153
Cultraro 2007,2010 Succinite
Pl-Da2 MBA (16001350 BC) Discoidal bead Plemmirio (Syracuse) Tomb 48, showcase
6, inv. no. 17,153
Cultraro 2007,2010 Succinite
Pl-Aa1 MBA (16001350 BC) Annular bead Plemmirio (Syracuse) Tomb 48, showcase
6, inv. no. 17,153
Cultraro 2007,2010 Spectrum strongly
influenced by the
polymer of the
possibly succinite
Pl-Aa2 MBA (16001350 BC) Annular bead Plemmirio (Syracuse) Tomb 48, showcase
6, inv. no. 17,153
Cultraro 2007,2010 Succinite
Pl-Ba MBA (16001350 BC) Biconical bead Plemmirio (Syracuse) Tomb 48, showcase
6, inv. no. 17,153
Cultraro 2007,2010 Spectrum strongly
influenced by the
polymer of the
no secure
identification of
the amber origin
Pl-Ga MBA (16001350 BC) Globular bead Plemmirio (Syracuse) Tomb 48, showcase
6, inv. no. 17,153
Cultraro 2007,2010 Succinite
Pl-Ea MBA (16001350 BC) Annular bead with
elliptical section
Plemmirio (Syracuse) Tomb 48, showcase
6, inv. no. 17,153
Cultraro 2007,2010 Succinite
MP-06 FBA Late phase
(about 10th cent. BC)
Amber fragment
Madonna del Piano
From grave, inv. no.
Bietti Sestieri 1979 Succinite
MP-08 FBA Late phase
(about 10th
cent. BC)
Cylindrical bead
with elliptic
Madonna del Piano
From grave, inv. no.
Bietti Sestieri 1979Succinite
MP-61 FBA Late phase (about
10th cent. BC)
Fragment of an
Madonna del Piano
From grave, inv. no.
Bietti Sestieri 1979 Simetite
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amber identified by the analysis (Bellintani et al. 2011)possi-
bly could be related to the use of one of these amber types.
The more known and diffused Italian amber type however
comes from the South and it is the simetite, so named by Helm
and Conwentz (1881,1886) (van der Werf et al. 2016)be-
cause it was found along the Simeto River (Catania) in
Sicily. Simetite continued to be found in the past century along
the Simeto and Salso rivers, and also on the coasts of east and
south-east Sicily. Unfortunately, nowadays the recovery of
this amber is extremely rare due to the past large use and to
the environmental changes. The geological description of the
deposit and its age are uncertain due to the fact that simetite
has never been found in the original settings. It is referred as a
tertiary amber, possibly dated to the Pliocene/Miocene
(Kohring and Schlütter 1989; Skalski and Veggiani 1990;
Beck and Hartnett 1993). According to the chemical classifi-
cation proposed by Anderson and Crelling (1995), simetite
has been described based on NMR analyses as a Class Ib
resinite (group A, Lambert et al. 2012; van der Werf et al.
2016). On the other hand, the molecular structure and the
possible botanical source of simetite were recently
investigated by van der Werf et al. (2016) applying spectro-
scopic, chromatographic and mass spectroscopy analyses.
They classify simetite as belonging to Class Ic and point to
the Fabaceae family as the likely botanical source.
The analytical techniques used for the study and character-
ization of amber are numerous, depending on the specific aim
of the investigation (a recent summary may be found in
Angelini 2010a, and references quoted therein). Infrared (IR)
spectroscopy is by large the more applied technique thanks to
its low cost and low-invasive approach, and especially be-
cause it shows a high sensitivity in the determination of the
amber source. In particular, the archaeometric investigation of
amber strongly benefits of the use of micro-invasive or non-
invasive technique, such as DRIFT, diffuse reflectance Fourier
transformed spectroscopy (Angelini and Bellintani 2005), and
FTIR-VAR, the Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy-
variable angle reflectance (Teodor et al. 2010).
IR analysis permits unambiguous identification of succinite
(Beck et al. 1964,1965), and other types of amber such as:
rumenite, gedanite and gedano-succinite (Beck 1986; Stout
et al. 1995; Ghiurca and Vavra 1990; Valaczkai and Ghiurca
1997; Kosmowska-Ceranowicz 1999; Angelini and Bellintani
2005). In the study of the archaeological ambers, the origin of
the deposit is very important, and the availability of data re-
lated to the characterization of small deposits is crucial, even if
Fig. 1 Images of the analysed
samples are shown in order to
give an idea of the colours, the
conservation states and the main
typologies of the beads. The
samples in the figures are named
as in Table 1, and correspond
respectively to aCF-A, bCF-B,
cCSe, dCas-Fr1, ePl-Da1,
fPl-Ba, gPl-Ga, hMP-08 and
Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2017) 9:673684 675
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the sources are not relevant for the modern market. Thanks to
geological, paleontological and archaeometric studies the IR
spectroscopic investigation of small deposits are now increas-
ing, and data are available in the recent literature from new
localities, for example from France (Guiliano et al. 2006;
Jossang et al. 2008; Néraudeau et al. 2011), Spain (Álvarez-
Fernández et al. 2005; Peñalver et al. 2007;DalCorsoetal.
2013) and Italy (Ragazzi et al. 2003; Trevisani et al. 2005;
Angelini and Bellintani 2005).
The simetite IR spectrum and its characteristic features
were first studied by Beck and co-workers (Beck 1986;
Beck and Hartnett 1993). They have been reported without
substantial variation in many other studies where samples with
secure geological origin were used as reference materials.
In the present research, DRIFT analyses were performed on
22 archaeological finds, using the methodology previously
developed and applied in numerous studies (Angelini and
Bellintani 2005,2006;Angelini2010b,2012,2013;
Bellintani et al. 2015). The analysis and the database are de-
veloped taking into account both the chemical and the miner-
alogical characteristic of the samples, as relevant in
archaeometric studies (Artioli and Angelini 2011). The objects
are fragments and ornaments of amber from six Sicilian ar-
chaeological sites, dated between the Eneolithic and the Final
Bronze Age (FBA). The main aim of the study is to investigate
the amber sources exploited during the different chronological
phases, with a special focus on the possible use of simetite.
Materials investigated
The finds investigated are conserved in the BPaolo Orsi^
Museum in Syracuse (Sicily) where they are on permanent ex-
hibition. The majority of them are ornamental beads with simple
typology, but some are in a very fragmentary state that does not
allow the identification of the pristine shape of the object. In
Table 1, the sample labels adopted during the analyses with the
relative typology, origin and museum inventory number of the
finds are listed. The archaeological ages of the samples are also
shown together with the recent publications where the amber
objects and their provenience site are discussed. The results of
the DRIFT analyses are also reported.
The age data reported in Table 1are related to the local
Sicilian chronology; a rough correspondence to absolute date
is also displayed for clarity. Each archaeological site is specif-
ically described concerning the typology of the ambers, the
comparison with other coeval sites and the chronological clas-
sification, starting from the oldest materials.
Copper age (or Eneolithic)
A flattened ovoid pendant was discovered during the excava-
tions carried out by Paolo Orsi (1907) at the cave Grotta
Calafarina (Fig. 1a). According to Cultraro (2007,2010:
388), it is one ofthe components of the goods of a single grave
dating back to the beginning of the Eneolithic Period (facies
Fig. 2 1DRIFT spectrum of a reference succinite (Baltic amber) compared with the data of some of the analysed Sicilian amber finds of Baltic origin. 2
MP-06, 3MP-08, 4Pl-Fr, 5Pl-Da2, 6Th-A2, 7Th-A3 and 8CSe. The spectra are translated on the Y-axis (T%) in order for the sake of clarity
676 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2017) 9:673684
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San ConoPiano Notaro). The association of the finds in the
grave is not reported in the original Orsis publication, but if
this association and the date of the pendant are correct, we are
dealing with the most ancient amber find from the Central
Mediterranean. From the same site, other small amber frag-
ments are present in the museum collection and one was cho-
sen for the analysis (Fig. 1b).
In the Italian peninsula, the only other known Copper Age
ambers are the famous simetite beads from Laterza
(Biancofiore 1967;Beck1971) and the recent finding in the
necropolis of Gattolino (Cesena). In the latter site, among the
goods of tomb 1 (belonging to a 3035 years old male) a
Bnecklace of Sicilian amber beads and silver^is reported
(Bernabò Brea and Miari 2013: 371), although to date the
analyses have not been published.
Early Bronze Age
The Early Bronze Age (EBA) in Sicily basically corresponds,
as far as its beginning stage is concerned, to the period with
the same name in the Italian peninsula, that is around 2200
BC, while its last period is coeval with the first phase of the
Middle Bronze Age (MBA) of the peninsula and hence ends
around 1600 BC (Cultraro 2010; Martinelli et al. 2012).
According to Vanzetti (Vanzetti in: Gennusa 2015)inthe
south-east territory of Sicily (Castelluccio facies), the EBA
possibly covers an even wider chronological range:
2300/22001600/1500 BC.
Amber beads dated to the EBAwere discovered in funerary
contexts from south-eastern Sicily (Valsavoia, Cava Cana
Barbara; Monte Sallia, Castelluccio and Cava Secchiera) and
they generally show globular or cylindrical shapes. The beads
belong to the Castelluccio facies, especially to the latest peri-
od, corresponding to the late EBA and the beginning of the
MBA in the peninsula.
The four finds dated to the EBA analysed in this study are
from tomb 9 of the Castelluccio necropolis and from the Cava
Secchiera necropolis. The amber object from Castelluccio
lacks useful elements for a typological analysis (an example
in Fig. 1d), and consequently it is not possible to identify a
relative chronology for these finds. Nevertheless, based on the
recent research performed by Rosy Gennusa (2015) on the
contexts of Castelluccio, the examined materials could refer
to an advanced (but not final) phase of the Castelluccio facies.
The large discoidal bead from Cava Secchiera (Fig. 1c) shows
a possible comparison with similar typical artefacts dated to the
Fig. 3 The DRIFT analysis of the inner part of the samples Pl-Fr (3)is
compared with (4) the spectrum of the outer part of the same sample
(corresponding to the surface of the bead). Spectrum (3) clearly
corresponds to succinite, whereas strong absorption peaks due to a
synthetic polymer are visible in (4). Similar peaks are also present in
the spectrum of the sample Pl-Aa1 (5) mixed with the absorption of the
amber. In this case, the amber origin is doubtful, but for comparison with
(3) and (4) a Baltic origin could be suggested. Reference spectra of amber
with secure origins are also reported: (2) succinite and (1) simetite
(respectively samples MMi1 and SI-M-37 from our database). The
spectrum of an aged cellulose nitrate is displayed in (6), which shows
high similarity with the absorption features of spectra (4)and(5)
Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2017) 9:673684 677
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central centuries of the II millennium BC. If we consider exclu-
sively coeval beads, similar amber was found only from Monte
Castellaccio and Castione Marchesi (Emilia Romagna), dating
back to MBA 12(Miari2007: 69; :7375; fig. II no. 13; : 80;
fig. II no. 43) and from the Micene grave III, dating back to TE I
(Harding et al. 1974: 148, fig. 5, no. 1, 3 and 6).
Middle Bronze Age
The ambers from the well-known archaeological sites of
Thapsos (Orsi 1895) and Plemmirio (Orsi 1891,1899)belong
to the MBA. The analytical examination was carried out on
some of the discoidal beads from Thapsos and on the flattened
globular and biconical ones from tomb 48 in Plemmirio
(Fig. 1eg; Orsi 1899, fig. 7). In any case, we are not dealing
with diagnostic types; actually, these shapes are widely docu-
mented both in the peninsular area and in the Aegean one. The
date of these finds can be suggested only on the base of the
context origin: which means the MBA of the Sicilian Bronze
Age, or the MBA 23 of the peninsular chronology (about
15501350 BC) and the TE III A of the Aegean area.
Final Bronze Age
The materials from the necropolis of Madonna del Piano dated
to the final phase of the Final Bronze Age, around 1000 BC
(Bietti Sestieri 1979; Albanese Procelli 1992,1994). The only
intact element of those analysed, the cylindrical bead (inv. no.
71008; Fig. 1h), shows a possible comparison with similar
forms present in Sardinia, for instance in the tomb of
Motroxe BoisUsellus (Usai 2007: 100, fig. II 63, 64, 67)
that generally date to the Final Bronze Age (FBA). The
Tiryns and Allumiere beads are typologies characteristic of
the Italian LBA-EIA; notably they are absent in Madonna
del Piano, and also in the other Sicilian contexts published
so far. The only remarkable exception is the tomb 31 in
Piazza Monfalcone in Lipari where these elements are present
in a rich female grave. The Tiryns and Allumiere type beads
are typically present in the female jewellery sets of the Italian
Bprotovillanovian^communities and are widely spread in the
central east Mediterranean (Cultraro 2006;Bellintani2015).
Sampling and experimental
The infrared analyses were performed using a Nicolet
NEXUS 760 FTIR instrument, equipped with the Collector
II accessory that allows to work in the diffuse reflectance
mode (DRIFT). The measurements were recorded in the
4000400 cm
spectral range, with a resolution of 4 cm
and 64 scans accumulation. The spectra were processed with
the Nicolet Instrument Corporation program: OMNIC,
Fig. 4 DRIFT spectra of all the analysed amber finds identified as simetite: (1) Mp-61, (2)Cas-Fr1,(3)Cas-Fr3,(4)Cas-Fr2,(5) CF-A, (6)CF-B;
reference samples of simetite are spectra (7) and (8), relative to samples SM1 and SI-OM-37, respectively
678 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2017) 9:673684
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version 5.1. The DRIFT measurement was obtained by an
analytical procedure developed to minimize the amount of
material required for each analyses, which is described in de-
tail in previous works (Angelini and Bellintani 2005,2006;
Angelini 2010b). Generally for a single DRIFT analysis 0.1
0.2 mg of amber sample is required.
The most common problem involved in amber analysis is
alteration and/or the presence of surface conservants. It is well
known that alteration occurs for normal environmental effects
or due to anomalous preservation conditions (Cronyn 1990;
Tapparo e t al. 2011). As far as conservation is concerned, the
use of synthetic polymers as surface consolidants and preser-
vatives is a widely diffused procedure for a number of mate-
rials, such as metals (Favre-Quattropania et al. 2000), bones
(Johnson 1994) and especially amber (Beck 1982; Thickett
et al. 1995). The analysis of amber previously treated with
organic conservants is particularly difficult due to the overlap-
ping of the spectroscopic signal. Both problems were faced in
the present investigation of the Sicilian ambers.
The amber chips necessary for the analyses were cut from
the finds by the use of a steel blade or simply by a steel needle,
in the case of strong weathering of the samples. The surface of
all the beads was strongly corroded and often evidence of
polymer conservant could be detected on the surface
(Fig. 1). Moreover, many samples in the original exhibition
cases were glued directly on the plexiglass support used for
display causing severe damages to the amber (cracks and loss
of materials) and also creating problems during the sampling
due to the impossibility to properly handle the items. Taking
into account the potential presence of synthetic polymers in
the amber samples, large samples (about 1 mg of amber) were
extracted whenever possible in order to be able to perform
repeated analyses.
Results and discussion
All but two of the analysed ambers may be classified in two
groups. The first group encompasses the sample from Cava
Secchiera (CSe), all the ones from Thapsos, six beads from
Plemmirion and two ambers from Madonna del Piano (Tab.
1). The spectra of these finds are similar to the one of succinite
(Fig. 2). They present always the strong absorption peaks
related to the symmetric and asymmetric stretching and bend-
ing vibrations of the CH
and CH
groups present at
2937 ± 5, 2873 ± 2, 1453 ± 2 and about 1375 cm
. The last
Fig. 5 Distribution of the amber finds according to their provenience as
obtained by IR analyses and their age, based on the peninsular Italian
chronology. The data are from Angelini and Bellintani (2005,2006),
Angelini (2009,2010b,2012 and 2013), Guerreschi (1999), Beck
(1971) and from the results of this research. aDistribution map of
the Copper AgeEBA I (about 35001800 BC), bdistribution map of
the EBAII (about 18001600 BC) [void circle, ambers not analysed;
full circle, simetite; upward full triangle, succinite] (distribution map
references in Bellintani 2015; map modify from Bellintani 2015:
Figs. 12)
Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2017) 9:673684 679
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peak is difficult to be observed in the DRIFT spectra of both
the archaeological and reference succinite samples due to the
existence at this wavelength of a derivative peak (Fig. 2). The
phenomenon is not unusual with this technique, but the inter-
pretation of the spectrum is not compromised, especially if an
appropriate reference database is available, as discussed in
Angelini and Bellintani (2005).
The intense peak associated to the carbonyl stretching is
recorded in the range 17151728 cm
region^of the spectra, corresponding approximately to the
range of 1300800 cm
, these samples show the absorption
peak characteristic of succinite, as described by Beck and co-
workers (Beck et al. 1964,1965;Beck1986) and Larsson
(1978). A strong peak at about 1168 ± 2 cm
is preceded by
a broad shoulder (corresponding to the so-called BBaltic
shoulder^), due to the CO bond stretching of the saturated
esters. Another important and broad peak is recorded in the
range 9801030 cm
and is considered related to the symmet-
ric bending of cyclohexane CH bonds. The IR spectrum of
succinite also shows a characteristic band at 885890 cm
to the bending out of plane of the terminal CH olefinic bonds.
This peak is present at 890 cm
in the reference samples of
succinite displayed in Fig. 2(sample number 1), but it is rarely
visible in the archaeological samples. This could be due to two
factors: the first is the presence of a derivative peak in the
DRIFT spectra at this wavelength (as visible in the samples 2,
3and8inFig.2); the second is the loss of the terminal olefinic
bond due to the oxidation process that occurs during the ageing
of the archaeological find (Beck et al. 1965;Larsson1978).
In several samples, especially the ones from Plemmirion, the
DRIFT results show the presence of strong absorption bands not
related to amber, but possibly due to a synthetic polymer. In the
majority of the cases, a repeated measurement performed with
the inner part of sample was enough to obtain a cleaner and
easily interpretable spectrum, as in the case of sample Pl-Fr in
Fig. 3(respectively spectra 3 and 4). In two cases (samples Pl-
Aa1: Fig. 3, spectrum 5; and sample Pl-Ba), it was not possible to
obtain a clean IR spectrum and for these objects the interpretation
of the amber origin is doubtful. Nevertheless, the comparison of
the absorption peaks appearing in the analyses of these objects
with the spectra of interpretable samples having similar contam-
ination problems (as for Pl-FR) seems to suggest a Baltic origin.
The IR absorptions due to the synthetic polymer detected in
the amber samples are comparable with the spectrum of an aged
cellulose nitrate that is reported for comparison in Fig. 3(spec-
trum 6). The cellulose nitrate was extensively used in the past as
both an adhesive and a protective polymer, and applied especial-
ly on ceramics and metals (Selwitz 1988). Nowadays, for the
Fig. 6 Distribution maps of amber in Italy; data as described in Fig. 5.a
Distribution map of the MBA 12 (about 16001450 BC), bdistribution
map of the MBA3/RBA (about 14501200 BC) [void circle,ambersnot
analysed; full circle,simetite;upward full triangle, succinite; downward
full triangle, other amber types; upward void triangle, possible presence
(?) of other amber types; full star, presence of succinite and other amber
types] (map references as described in Fig. 5)
680 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2017) 9:673684
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conservation of amber, Paraloid-type polymers are widely used,
and the cellulose nitrate is generally not employed anymore.
Anyway, considering that the investigated amber finds were
discovered during very old excavations, and that were conserved
for a long time in the Museum, the presence of cellulose nitrate
is consistent with the conservation history of the objects.
The second group of amber samples that show similar IR
spectra (Fig. 4, spectra 16) is totally comparable with
simetite reference samples (Fig. 4,spectra78). The absorp-
tion peaks related to the stretching and bending of the CH
and CH
groups are at 2939 ± 3, 2872 ± 2, 1456 ± 2 and
about 1383 ± 3 cm
In three samples (number 13 in Fig. 4), the C=O stretching
is observed at 1718 ± 1 cm
; however, the peak is slightly
shifted in other three finds (number 46 in Fig. 4) and is
present at 1708 ± 1 cm
Interestingly, the last samples also show a strong absorption
peak at 1567 cm
, which could be possibly related to the C=C
stretching. The peak of the C=O stretching at these frequencies
is generally associated to carboxylic acid. It is interesting to
observe that in a recent study on Baltic amber, it is suggested
that ageing decreases the absorption due to the carbonyl of
esters (that is at higher frequency, around 1730 cm
et al. 2013). The weathering of the amber, possibly associated
to hydrolysis process, results in the spectrum as a shift of the
carbonyl absorption peak. Moreover, in samples aged in an
alkaline buffer, the appearance of an infrared band in the spectra
around 1550 cm
was observed and linked to the formation of
saline by-products. Similar processes could reasonably be re-
sponsible of the spectral features of our samples (Fig. 4).
The fingerprint region of the sample spectra reported in Fig. 4
is fully comparable with the ones of the reference simetite sam-
ples and with the literature reports for this amber type (Beck
1986; Beck and Hartnett 1993; Angelini and Bellintani 2005;
van der Werf et al. 2016). The main intense absorption peak is
, and it is associated to five shoulders/
minor peaks that decrease in intensity at increasing wavelengths.
They are found at 1190 ± 1, 1143 ± 1, 1110 ± 1 and 986 ± 6 cm
The results ofthe present study add new and interesting datain
the investigation of the amber sources used in Italy during the
protohistory. Summaries of the data available from previous
works (publications quoted in the caption of Fig. 5) and the
present results are reported in the distribution maps of the
amber finds in Italy presented in Figs. 5,6and 7.IfIRanal-
yses are available, the points on the maps are differentiated
based on the amber origin.
The analyses performed by Beck (1971) on two amber frag-
ments from Laterza necropolis (tomb 3, layer XIII) in Puglia
date the presence of simetite in South Italy to the half of the III
millennium BC. The DRIFTanalyses of the objects from Grotta
Calfarina, especially the one on the pendant, now date back the
use of simetite possibly to the IV millennium BC. The picture
described by the map in Fig. 5a shows that the few amber
objects found during the Eneolitic-EBA I in South Italy are
made exclusively by simetite, whereas there are no analytical
information for North Italian materials. In the EBA II (Fig. 5b),
the amber finds are still scarce and present only in the North.
The few available analyses show the early use of succinite.
In a recent interesting study, Murillo-Barroso and
Martinón-Torres (2012) review all the known occurrences of
amber in the Iberian Peninsula during the prehistory and the
IR analyses performed on those materials. The number of
available analyses is limited, but notably the possible use of
simetite is reported in three sites since the Neolithic, between
the V and the IV millennium BC. In particular, these amber
beads were found in funerary contexts from Spain (Dolmen de
Alberite, close to Villamartín - Cádiz and from Chousa Nova,
close to Pontevedra) and in Northern Portugal (one bead from
Fig. 7 Distribution maps of amber in Italy during the FBA-EIA (about
1200800 BC). Data as described in Fig. 5.[void circle, ambers not
analysed; full circle, simetite; upward full triangle, succinite; full star,
presence of succinite and other amber types] (map references as
described in Fig. 5)
Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2017) 9:673684 681
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Dolmen de Mamoa de Chã de Arcas). However, the spectrum
reported for the analysis of an amber from Dolmen de
Alberite, described as simetite (Domínguez-Bella et al.
2001), totally differs in the fingerprint region from the typical
spectrum of simetite. Indeed, two strong absorption peaks are
present at about 1000 cm
, which do not characterize the IR
absorption of simetite.
Similar arguments can be applied to the published spectra
from Chousa Nova, which show a strong absorption peak at
about 1000 cm
, not observed in simetite spectra
(Domínguez-Bella and Bóveda Fernández 2011). Actually, even
if similarity with simetite is suggested in the discussion, the au-
thors in the conclusion do not empathize the Sicilian origin of the
amber but simply suggest a possible provenience external to the
Iberian Peninsula. If no further data will be published to confirm
these claims, the presence of simetite in the discussed sites has to
be considered at least doubtful. Considering the reported features
of the IR spectrum, the Sicilian origin of the amber pommel dated
to the III millennium BC, analysed by Murillo-Barroso and
Martinón-Torres (2012), seems more plausible. Anyway, also
in the latter case the identification of the amber origin is not
totally secure due to the presence of absorption peaks at about
1000 and 888 cm
If the Sicilian origin of the Spanish amber will be con-
firmed, it represents a remarkable spread of simetite in the
Mediterranean Sea as early as the IV millenniumBC, contem-
porary to the early use of the material in South Italy.
The DRIFT data of the analysed finds from Castelluccio
and Cava Secchiera prove a continuity in the use of the
Sicilian amber sources during the first phase of the Sicilian
EBA (samples from Castelluccio), whereas it seems that in the
last phase theywere less exploited and succinite makes its first
appearance in the island (sample from cava Secchiera). At the
same time, corresponding to the MBA 12 in peninsular Italy,
the presence of succinite is confirmed in North and Central
Italy, even if the number of amber finds analysed is limited
(Fig. 6a).
The diffusion of simetite in the Eastern Mediterranean area
seems to be testify by the presence of two simetite beads from
the Vayenas tholos, Pylos (Greek), dated between the Middle
Helladic (MD) to the Late Helladic II/III (LH), analysed by
Beck and Hartnett (1993).
During the Sicilian MBA, corresponding to the MBA 23
in peninsular Italy (Fig. 6b), the number of amber finds strong-
ly increase everywhere in Italy. All the investigated amber
finds from Thapsos and from Plemmirion belong to this phase
and they resulted to be exclusively succinite. Simetite has not
been found byIR analyses in any of the Italian sites; therefore,
it is possible to assume a minor use of the Sicilian amber
sources. It is interesting to note that amber (in particular
succinite) appears in Sardinia only in the Recent Bronze Age.
In the FBA-EIA, succinite is by far the more used and
diffused amber type, as shown by the IR analyses (Fig. 7).
In the site of Campestrin, Grignano Polesine (Rovigo, North
Italy), dated to the end of RBA and the beginning of the FBA,
the local processing of amber was proven beyond any doubt
by the finds retrieved during careful excavations. The DRIFT
analyses of working splinters, raw amber blocks, semi-
finished and finished object from the Campestrin site consis-
tently show the Baltic origin of the raw material employed
(Bellintani et al. 2015). The DRIFT spectra of the amber ob-
jects from Madonna del Piano presented in this study prove
the presence of succinite also in Sicily, and moreover they
testify that simetite was still in use. Interestingly, the presence
of amber with an even different origin (neither succinite nor
simetite) is testified in this phase in at least two sites:
Romanzesu, in Sardinia (Angelini 2012), and Poggiomarino,
in Campania (Bellintani et al. 2011). The overall picture
shows that the exploitation of amber sources during FBA-
EIA was extensive, and the raw materials and/or the finished
products were traded around the whole European region.
Acknowledgments The Paolo Orsi Museum is acknowledged for the
permission to study the materials; Angela M. Manenti and Concetta
Ciurcina (who was the director of the Museum when the sampling was
performed) are thanked for their kind help. The Soprindendenza per I
Beni Archeologici of the Sicilia region is thanked for the permission to
study and sample the amber finds. The research was supported by funding
of the I.I.P.P. (Italian Institute of Prehistory and Protohistory). Prof. A.
Pavese (University of Milan) kindly made the infrared instrumentation
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684 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2017) 9:673684
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... Of these samples, the beads from the Dolmen of Alberite (6 th -5 th Millennia BC) were the first to be explicitly identified as simetite in several publications [16], and hence purported to be Sicilian in origin. Recently, in an interesting article about the origin of amber recovered in Italy, Angelini and Bellintani have questioned the Sicilian origin of the Alberite samples by noting that the original publication shows a "totally different spectrum in the fingerprint Amber in prehistoric Iberia region from the typical spectrum of simetite" [69]. While the shape of the FTIR spectrum shown in a relatively recent publication [16] does superficially resemble that of reference simetite, and it is here that the authors first propose this identification (see also [67]), the location of the absorption bands reported in an earlier publication [65] does not accurately match those in our reference simetite sample (see Table 5), and hence a Sicilian origin is possible but not conclusively proved. ...
... In any case, FTIR spectra matching those of simetite have also been published in the studies of the Mamoa V of Chã de Arcas and Chousa Nova (5 th Millennium BC) [68]. The latter study has also been questioned by Angelini and Bellintani [69] because of the presence of an absorption peak at around 1000 cm -1 . Although it is true that the peak to which they refer appears displaced (at 1019 cm -1 instead of 1041 ±5cm -1 as it is in the reference spectra of simetite), all the bands described coincide with those of simetite (Table 5), and it therefore seems sensible to retain this assignation as the most plausible. ...
... Although it is true that the peak to which they refer appears displaced (at 1019 cm -1 instead of 1041 ±5cm -1 as it is in the reference spectra of simetite), all the bands described coincide with those of simetite (Table 5), and it therefore seems sensible to retain this assignation as the most plausible. Angelini and Bellintani [69] also cast doubts on the Sicilian origin of the amber pommel of the structure 10042-10049 of Valencina de la Concepción published in Murillo-Barroso and Martinón-Torres [9], because of "the presence of two absorption peaks around 1000 and 888 cm-1 ", although they recognise that a Sicilian origin is still plausible in this case. The first peak they refer to is actually at 1045 (simetite = 1041 ±5 cm -1 ). ...
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Provenancing exotic raw materials and reconstructing the nature and routes of exchange is a major concern of prehistoric archaeology. Amber has long been recognised as a key commodity of prehistoric exchange networks in Europe. However, most science-based studies so far have been localised and based on few samples, hence making it difficult to observe broad geographic and chronological trends. This paper concentrates on the nature, distribution and circulation of amber in prehistoric Iberia. We present new standardised FTIR analyses of 22 archaeological and geological samples from a large number of contexts across Iberia, as well as a wide scale review of all the legacy data available. On the basis of a considerable body of data, we can confirm the use of local amber resources in the Northern area of the Iberian Peninsula from the Palaeolithic to the Bronze Age; we push back the arrival of Sicilian amber to at least the 4 th Millennium BC, and we trace the appearance of Baltic amber since the last quarter of the 2 nd Millennium BC, progressively replacing Sicilian simetite. Integrating these data with other bodies of archaeological information, we suggest that the arrival of Baltic amber was part of broader Mediterranean exchange networks, and not necessarily the result of direct trade with the North. From a methodological perspective, thanks to the analyses carried out on both the vitreous core and the weathered surfaces of objects made of Sicilian simetite, we define the characteristic FTIR bands that allow the identification of Sicilian amber even in highly deteriorated archaeological samples.
... The identification of archaeological amber has been used in Iberian prehistory to evidence long-distance exchanges and engage Iberia in networks that connect western Europe with central and northern Europe. However, assuming a Baltic origin for these ambers is not usually supported by analytical data and numerous deposits are found in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary and Romania (Poinar 1992;Kosmowska-Ceranowicz 1999;Rice 2006;Angelini and Bellintani 2016). ...
... The mound is preserved up to c. 3.5 m in height. Angelini and Bellintani (2016) the spectrum of this sample totally differs from that of simetite reference spectrum. They state that, the characterization as simetite has to be considered at least doubtful due to the presence of two strong bands at c. 1000 cm −1 that are lacking in the simetite reference spectra b No mention of amber beads at La Encantada 3 is made prior to Molina Fajardo and Cámara Serrano (2009) in either (Leisner and Leisner 1943, b;Almagro and Arribas 1963;Lorrio 2008). ...
... Unless Molina Fajardo and Cámara Serrano have seen the bead, which they do not explicitly state, it must be considered a mistake c This is a 4th millennium BCE megalith that was in use during the 3rd and 2nd millennia BCE. It was referenced as La Lora in Álvarez Fernández et al. (2005) d During the writing of this paper, a recent book has been published analyzing 32 beads from Montelirio tholos (Murillo-Barroso 2016) e According to Angelini and Bellintani (2016) the spectrum of this sample differs from that of simetite reference spectrum. They state that, the characterization as simetite is not totally certain due to the presence of absorption peaks at about 1000 and 888 cm −1 f There is a bead that resembles amber in its color and texture that is not amber deposited in the Museu Geológico (Lisbon) Pereira 1970). ...
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The identification of archaeological amber has been used in Iberian prehistory to evidence long-distance exchanges and engage Iberia in networks that connect western Europe with central and northern Europe, the emergence of social complexity, and the consolidation of trade networks. However, until now, no comprehensive analytical study of the Iberian amber has been produced to support any of the interpretive models currently in use. This paper approaches the analysis of Iberian Peninsula amber artefacts by considering their provenance (based on FTIR characterization), chronology, and spatial relationship with other exotica. Our work increases the number of analyzed artefacts to 156 (24%), out of the c. 647 currently known for the Iberian Peninsula. Based on these new data and a review of Murillo-Barroso and Martinón-Torres (2012), this overview outlines amber consumption patterns from the 6th to 2nd millennia BCE and demonstrates long-distance amber exchange connecting Iberia with the Mediterranean region from the Neolithic period onwards.
... The advantage of this technique is mainly related to its possible use in a noninvasive mode (directly to the surface) or to very low amounts of sample. In particular, diffuse-reflectance infrared Fourier transform (DRIFT) (Angelini and Bellintani 2005), variable angle reflectance (VAR) -FTIR (Teodor et al. 2010) and attenuated total reflectance (ATR) -FTIR (Guiliano et al. 2007) spectroscopy have been employed for the discrimination of various types of amber and for the analysis of archaeological finds (Angelini and Bellintani 2005, Angelini and Bellintani 2017, Peñalver et al. 2007, Teodor et al. 2010). Generally, FTIR spectroscopy is performed in the Mid-infrared range (MIR), but recently Far-IR spectroscopy has been proposed for succinite gemstone characterisation and differentiation of fossil and subfossil resins (Wagner-Wysiecka et al. 2016). ...
... Several amber finds from six Sicilian archaeological sites have been analysed by DRIFT spectroscopy (Angelini and Bellintani 2017). It came out that the use of simetite dates back to the IV millennium BCE and that in South Italy, in the Late Eneolithic, only simetite was used. ...
... La primera llamada de atención subraya la cronología posterior, hasta donde conocemos, de los primeros objetos de ámbar en Sicilia respecto a algunos de los hallados en la Península Ibérica para los que se propone una procedencia siciliana, caso de confirmarse en los del dolmen de Alberite. Sería necesario un estudio más pormenorizado del consumo de ámbar en Sicilia, pero las evidencias que conocemos por el momento parecen indicar que allí ese patrón es inverso al de la Península Ibérica: los primeros objetos de ámbar datan de principios del IV milenio cal ANE (Cultraro 2007;Angelini y Bellintani 2016). Son escasos hasta llegar a la Edad del Bronce (2200-1700 cal ANE), cuando se hacen comunes (Cultraro 2007), curiosamente coincidiendo con el descenso significativo de hallazgos de ámbar en la Península Ibérica tras haber tenido una presencia más significativa durante el IV y especialmente el III milenio (véase Murillo-Barroso y Martinón-Torres 2012 y Murillo-Barroso et al. 2018 para una revisión). ...
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La presencia de objetos exóticos en contextos arqueológicos y los intercambios a larga distancia que estos implican es uno de los temas que despierta más interés en la discusión arqueológica. En este artículo presentamos el estudio de una cuenta o colgante hallado en contextos neolíticos de la Cueva de los Cuarenta (Priego de Córdoba). Se trata del único elemento de adorno presente en la cueva, en la que se ha documentado un número mínimo de 41 inhumaciones datadas a lo largo del IV milenio cal ANE. Se presenta la información contextual del hallazgo así como su caracterización arqueométrica mediante Espectroscopía de Infrarrojos por Transformada de Fourier (FTIR). El análisis de la pieza muestra que se trata de una cuenta de ámbar realizada con material foráneo, similar al empleado en las producciones de ámbar posteriores como las de Valencina de la Concepción (Sevilla). Al igual que en estos casos, se propone la procedencia exógena de la materia prima empleada, siendo Sicilia el origen más plausible a día de hoy, lo cual contribuirá al debate sobre las implicaciones que estos materiales foráneos pudieron tener en las sociedades prehistóricas peninsulares.
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The relationship between Sicily and the eastern Mediterranean – namely Aegean, Cyprus and the Levant – represents one of the most intriguing facets of the prehistory of the island. The frequent and periodical contact with foreign cultures were a trigger for a gradual process of socio-political evolution of the indigenous community. Such relationship, already in inception during the Neolithic and the Copper Age, grew into a cultural phenomenon ruled by complex dynamics and multiple variables that ranged from the Mid-3 rd to the end of the 2 nd millennium BCE. In over 1,500 years, a very large quantity of Aegean and Levantine type materials have been identified in Sicily alongside with example of unusual local material culture traditionally interpreted as resulting from external influence. To summarize all the evidence during such long period and critically address it in order to attempt historical reconstructions is a Herculean labor. Twenty years after Sebastiano Tusa embraced this challenge for the first time, this paper takes stock on two decades of new discoveries and research reassessing a vast amount of literature, mostly published in Italian and in regional journals, while also address the outcomes of new archaeometric studies. The in-depth survey offers a new perspective of general trends in this East-West relationship which conditioned the subsequent events of the Greek and Phoenician colonization of Sicily.
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This article uses rock art to explore potential bonds between Scandinavia and Italy, starting in the second half of the third millennium BCE with the enigmatic Mjeltehaugen burial monument in coastal western Norway and its striking rock art images, and ending in the first millennium BCE with ship motifs in inland Val Camonica, Italy. While the carved dagger on the Mjeltehaugen slab is unique in its Nordic setting, such weapon depictions are frequently seen on the Continent, e.g. in South Tyrol, and more often in later Nordic rock art. Strong evidence of trade relations between the Italian Alps and Scandinavia is found c. 1500–1100 BCE when the importation of copper from South Tyrol coincided with two-way transmission of luxury items, and again in a different form, c. 1000–700 BCE when strong similarities in burial traditions between the two areas may be seen as evidence of direct cultural connections or a shared cultural koiné . In order to understand the social fabric of these relations and how they unfolded through time, the authors discuss several different models of interaction. It is hypothesised that rock art practices played a role in establishing and maintaining durable social relations, through what we consider to be a two-way transmission of symbolic concepts and iconography during seasonal meetings related to trade and travel.
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The first part of this research published previously proved without doubt that the metals dated to the Nordic Bronze Age found in Sweden were not smelted from the local copper ores. In this second part we present a detailed interpretation of these analytical data with the aim to identify the ore sources from which these metals originated. The interpretation of lead isotope and chemical data of 71 Swedish Bronze Age metals is based on the direct comparisons between the lead isotope data and geochemistry of ore deposits that are known to have produced copper in the Bronze Age. The presented interpretations of chemical and lead isotope analyses of Swedish metals dated to the Nordic Bronze Age are surprising and bring some information not known from previous work. Apart from a steady supply of copper from the Alpine ores in the North Tyrol, the main sources of copper seem to be ores from the Iberian Peninsula and Sardinia. Thus from the results presented here a new complex picture emerges of possible connectivities and flows in the Bronze Age between Scandinavia and Europe.